CMS Announces Resumption of Program Integrity Functions

On July 7, 2020, CMS updated its Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Provider Burden Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).  As part of this update, CMS indicated that it would resume several program integrity functions, starting on August 3, 2020.  This includes pre-payment and post-payment medical reviews by its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), and the Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs).  This also includes the resumption of the Prior Authorization Model for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency ambulance transports.  These programs had been suspended by CMS in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resumption of Medicare Fee-For-Service Medical Reviews

 CMS suspended most Medicare FFS medical reviews on March 30, 2020.  This included pre-payment medical reviews conducted by its MACs under the Targeted Probe and Educate program, as well as post-payment reviews by its MACs, the SMRC, and the RACs.  CMS indicated that, given the importance of medical review activities to CMS’ program integrity efforts, it expects to discontinue its “enforcement discretion” beginning on August 3, 2020.

CMS indicated that providers selected for review should discuss any COVID-related hardships that might affect the provider’s ability to respond to the audit in a timely fashion with their contractor.

CMS further indicated that its contractors will be required to consider any waivers and flexibilities in place at the time of the dates of service of claims selected for future review.

Resumption of Prior Authorization Model

 Under the Repetitive, Scheduled, Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model, ground ambulance providers in affected states are required to seek and obtain prior authorization for the transportation of repetitive patients beyond the third round-trip in a 30-day period.  The Prior Authorization Model is currently in place in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

On March 29, 2020, CMS suspended certain claims processing requirements under the Prior Authorization Model.  During this “pause,” claims for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency transports were not be stopped for pre-payment review to the extent prior authorization had not been requested prior to the fourth round trip in a 30-day period.  However, CMS continued to permit ambulance providers to submit prior authorization requests to their MACs.

CMS indicated that full model operations and pre-payment review would resume for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation submitted in the model states on or after August 3, 2020.  CMS stated that the MACs will be required to conduct postpayment review on claims that were subject to the model, and which were submitted and paid during the pause.  CMS further indicated that it would work with the affected providers to develop a schedule for postpayment reviews that does not significantly increase the burden on providers.

CMS stated that claims that received a provision affirmation prior authorization review decision, and which were submitted with an affirmed Unique Tracking Number (UTN) will continue to be excluded from most future medical review.

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Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), COVID-19


Brian Werfel

Brian S. Werfel, Esq. is a partner in Werfel & Werfel, PLLC, a New York based law firm specializing in Medicare issues related to the ambulance industry. Brian is a Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association, and has authored numerous articles on Medicare reimbursement, most recently on issues such as the beneficiary signature requirement, repeat admissions and interrupted stays. He is a frequent lecturer on issues of ambulance coverage and reimbursement. Brian is co-author of the AAA’s Medicare Reference Manual for Ambulance, as well as the author of the AAA’s HIPAA Reference Manual. Brian is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia School of Law. Prior to joining the firm in 2005, he specialized in mergers & acquisitions and commercial real estate at a prominent New York law firm. Werfel & Werfel, PLLC was founded by David M. Werfel, who has been the Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association for over 20 years.